Saturday, October 20, 2012

So little respect...

Saw this article in the Washington Post by Dr/LTC Nagl on 'success' in Afghanistan.

It's about par for the course as far as the message goes.  Apparently, we're not losing in Afghanistan because!

What is surprising and what I was curious about is how completely shoddy the argument is.  Its like he's not even concerned with making logically consistent arguments.  It was almost like he just said, "fuck it, victory is near because I say it is."
Is this a new phenomenon?  Is the war in Afghanistan of so little significance to the American public that they don't even need a real reason behind the "because" anymore?

Honestly, it seems like there's a market here for Afghan War Madlib Opinion Pieces, so these commentator can streamline the process.

Take a stab at my first draft.

We have to fight in Afghanistan because of <patriotic noun>_______.  If we don't <people group> _____ will <negative verb> __________.  Sure <any news story from Afghanistan in the past 2 years> ________ makes it look like we're losing, but you know what?  We are <positive verb> _______.

In any event, Pakistan is dangerous because it has <war materials> _________ and <negative people group> _________ that could do something dangerous!  Because Pakistan is SOOO dangerous, it's important that we continue to fight in <Afghanistan, sorry, you don't really get to chose this> _____.  By fighting in Afghanistan, we stabilize Pakistan because <any reason> __________.

Just remember, if we don't fight <negative people group> _________ overseas, we will lose <any noun> _________.  It's true because <any reason> __________.  Naysayers might naysay, but they are wrong because I know <any prominent General/politician>___________ and they don't lie and he told me we were <positive verb> ________ in <Afghanistan/Pakistan/ or both> ____________.  But you don't really care about this because <any prominent political cause> _______ is much more important than killing overseas, so just let us do what we do and shut up already.


  1. PF-

    The basic situation has been apparent for some time, that is from a strategic theory perspective. As long as the US/NATO/Coalition Forces can remain engaged at the operational level, defeat at the strategic level need not be acknowledged . . . and since the foreign opposition does not have the military power to dislodge us operationally, we can remain engaged, although in wars that have already been lost strategically/politically . . . thus ensuring continuing war profit$$$ to US war investor$$$ but at the cost of any strategic coherence. Thus there is a market for your propaganda template . . .

  2. Seydlitz,

    I agree, I just used to think they did a better job of disguising it. He essentially said that after losing "best of 3," the US should go "best of 5" and on and on and on until they eventually win.

    That's not a winning strategy, and when you say that just staying in the game is what success looks like, you've essentially given up on winning in any sort of logical manner. Just because we can stay engaged doesn't mean that we can win, and this was all about winning. Or rather about how not losing is the same thing. I don't think I've ever seen it so completely baseless; as though all hope of success had been extinguished or all interest in the topic lost.

  3. The critical factor is the disengagement of the Western publics. There is no "penalty" for this endless stalemate. Outside the tiny professional military community no one in the general publics in the Western states involved feels any political, social, emotional, or financial "pain".

    So there's no real penalty for open lying here; aside from the overarching fact that the public media sees no need to fact-check or criticize this sort of ridiculous bloviation the public itself doesn't really CARE. So long as the level of violence stays at the brushfire level the people who are actually running this monkey house can just blatantly offer these worthless exercises in tautology every so often to amuse themselves without ever needing to bother making sense.

    And the reality was that there never was a possible "win" that didn't involve a practically-impossible level of fiscal and military effort. This place is a sinkhole of political and economic incoherence, always has been and especially since the Soviets wrecked the place back in the Eighties. Only a decades-long period of peace and stability has a chance of changing that, and given the political fragmentation and the toxic influence of various fanatical ideologies that chances of THAT are low to nonexistent.

    Had we been willing to empower a genuinely awful tyrant he might have had the ruthlessness to make a wasteland and call it peace. But now? Not possible.

    This is just the recognition that we will always be at war in Eastasia.

    1. FDC, I want to run with your point that: "[o]utside the tiny professional military community no one in the general publics in the Western states involved feels any political, social, emotional, or financial 'pain'." I think that financing the GWOT on credit was an attempt to specifically limit the people's involvement. Citizens in a republic have two political "voices." The first is their election of, and interaction with, their elected representatives. The second is their assent to taxation. Doing uber simple math every year there should have been a $1000 tax bill assessed on each tax payer (The war has cost ~1T per the GAO. Over the past decade it has been ~100B per year [of note, with roughly ~20% of that going to the cost of air conditioning]. There are 100M people in the US who pay federal income taxes. They should have each payed $1000 per year to pay for the war.)

      Whipping out the credit card meant no one had to consider what the cost of war was. Since war is costless, why stop it? Especially if victory is always right around the corner or if the fear mongers can convince you that Al Q is a heartbeat away from jumping out of your kids' closet. The peddlers of this misinformation have found a kind of soma.

      From Huxley's Brave New World: "And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears-that's what soma is."

      Patriotism without sacrifice. That's what debt financing of a war is.

  4. Here's the para I liked the best:

    "U.S. forces continue to perform similar functions in countries around the globe where we have fought and won our wars; they remain stationed in Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea and Bosnia. They will remain in Afghanistan as a sign of our continued vital interest in the region, which remains ground zero for global terrorism and nuclear proliferation, the most dangerous threats to U.S. security in this century."

    How many lies can you pack into a single paragraph? Let's look.

    Occupations: The occupation of Germany owed as much to the GSFG than to some sort of nation-building. The "occupation" of Germany and Japan (Japan? How the hell many guys are still in Japan? WTF? Italy? Is he serious counting Vincenza as an "occupation") today owes more to sloth and the fixity of ideas in the national security state than to any sort of "victory".

    Korea has more to do with the fractionality of the "victory" that left the DPRK armed and dangerous north of the Z.

    And we're still in Bosnia because nobody's sure what would happen if we left, and the downside might be more ethnic cleansing. Victory? Pretty dim one, if that.

    All of those states have more functional governments, economies, and societies than Afghanistan, which is a collection of tribes with a flag.

    The presence of foreign troops fighting in the AfPak would seem to be MORE destabilizing than stabilizing, but maybe that's just me.

    And "ground zero for global terrorism"? Hmmm. Wonder why that is? Could it be that by continuing to exert pressure on the locals we're performing a sort of Darwinian function, producing an ever more fit and adaptable anti-Western fighter, weeding out the incompetents and the idiots, seeding the ground with hate and grievance like Cadmus warriors.

    Nagl seems to elide the entire human history of foreign invasions, which have typically had one of two outcomes; either the establishment of a dictatorial regime and the rank order of a graveyard sort, or the destruction of the local society and the production of chaos, disorder, and instability.

    To think that sitting around for decades stirring the simmering pot of local feuds and resentment of the foreign hirelings - to make ourselves the Hessians of central Asia - is "winning"? says more about the poverty of imagination involved than it does about the actual hope for some sort of "good" outcome for this brouhaha.

    Sad. Just sad.

  5. Chief,

    All of this is true, but my favorite part was his overall theme that losing was related almost entirely with troops stationed in the countries.

    Wars against Germany and Japan? Won, we have troops there.
    War in Korea? Won, we have troops there.
    War in Vietnam? Lost, no troops there.

    War in Afghanistan? Still not lost because we have troops there.

    Now consider this one, war in Iraq? Lost because there are no troops there?

    Could the US have LOST another war already?

    Does Nagl think we lost that war or just keep these wars in different mental compartments? I would love to hear his comments on it considering the logic of the Vietnam defeat = no troops 'logic' of his opinion piece.

  6. "This will allow the United States to accomplish our national security objectives in the region: defeating al-Qaeda; preventing al-Qaeda and its affiliates from establishing permanent bases in Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan; and maintaining our own bases in the region from which to operate drones, manned aircraft and Special Operations forces"

    I can't believe what I just read.

    His plan...his...JesusHChrist...did he even read what he wrote?

    Did he even give it a moments thought that what he just wrote was...the VERY SAME THING THE US DID IN VIETNAM THAT HE LATER SAYS BROKE THE ARMY!

    Just for the is how I read the aforementioned quote...

    "This will allow the United States to accomplish our national security objectives in the region: defeating NVA; preventing the NVA and its affiliates from establishing permanent bases in Vietnam and the tribal regions of Cambodia; and maintaining our own bases in the region from which to operate observation planes, tactical aircraft and Special Operations forces"

    I am hoping he is the exception, and not the rule for what the Army's officer corps is made up of because if he is...I now know why Afghanistan is such an epic clusterfuck.

  7. Sheerahkahn, PFK and I have discussed at length the fact that historically misinformed dogma is a powerful meme within the military. It really is hard to find thinkers who are willing to do the heavy intellectual lifting or to tell their boss that they can't do something. (As in "sir, I cannot fathom how I can achieve your proposed political endstate with these military means in the context of Iraq/Afghanistan.")

    Somewhere in all the hype about RMAs of the 1990s we really became convinced that your operational means were so dazzling that they could achieve pretty much any strategic objective. RMAs (Thanks Andrew Marshall) were the latest incarnation of a pernicious tendency within the US military community to over analyze success and ignore failures. In 1979, Lieutenant Colonel Robert McFarlane, who would become President Ronald Reagan's national security adviser, summarized this with refreshing honesty: "Having superior strategic military might has provided an enormous hedge for flabby thinking. We could afford less than optimal strategic planning because push was never going to come to shove. We have had the luxury of being able to be foolish." (I drew this sentence verbatim from Mikah Zenko's article "100% right 0% of the time," Foreign Policy, 16 Oct 2012)

  8. Jeremy-

    Nice article by Zenko as far as he goes . . .

    I thought the paragraph right above yours interesting as well:

    --Governor Mitt Romney criticized this shift in Pentagon planning last month, when he told a seemingly puzzled and subdued crowd: "This president has done something I find very hard to understand. Ever since FDR, we've had the capacity to be engaged in two conflicts at once. He's saying, no -- we're going to cut that back to only one conflict." Romney did not make any predictions about what two wars the military should be prepared to fight, nor has he repeated this line of attack against President Obama. Apparently, prospective voters do not want to consider if the United States should be prepared to fight one or two wars, when two-thirds of Americans opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.--

    It seems that to make it to the top of the GOP you have to be mostly clueless as to US history, but make it sound convincingly like you aren't . . . Attempting to explain to a large audience what is wrong with Mittens's statement would simply take too long, you'd lose their attention after about 15 seconds. What sticks in their minds on the other hand is that Obama is "weak on defending America" . . .

    Planning for future military operations is impossible since the wars that we have been involved in since 2001 have made no strategic sense. That is unlikely to change especially since the "war party" seems to be ready to get back in the saddle . . .

  9. I have never been a fan of some of Nagl's theories on counterinsurgency. Especially his portrait of Vietnam as a failed COIN effort. Perhaps so in early stages but what does COIN have to do with an invasion by a quarter million North Vietnamese regulars with 300 plus tanks, and 1000+ artillery pieces? And he has in the past been a darling of some neocons, but also some liberals - go figure.

    On the other hand, consider Nagl's contributuion to the article 'Beyond Bullets':

    This essay from June 2009 was written jointly with Kristen Lord and Seth Rosen. It is not about COIN in Afghanistan or anywhere else. It speaks on ways to defeat counter-terrorism rather than counterinsurgency. Nagl, Lord and Rosen called for scaling down military ops significantly. They recommend a much more balanced approach focusing more on intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, finance and development, civilian NGOs (including both non-profits and private), strategic communication and public engagement.

    Essay is ~36 pages, or just read their recommendations on Ways and Means starting on page 20.

    BTW Chief, I think you are more correct than Nagl regarding the occupation of Germany, Italy and Japan. The American presence in those countries 67 years after their surrender is now due to NATO in GE and IT, and to the Mutual Security Treaty in JA. However they did start as nation building. And thanks to the Marshall Plan it worked. We could learn a lot from that.

  10. Germanic society and Japanese society were already complex and structured. I define that as composed of robust internal specializations which rely on social trust structures; a.k.a., the bauer trusts the burgher to provide finished goods, and the burgher trusts the bauer to bring in food. They were a more complex society who was momentarily living in a bombed out wasteland. They had to reform their political structure and rebuild their cities, but that is a largely objective problem. The Afghanis, on the other hand, are not a complex society (as FDC pointed out). They lack significant specialization, and they are largely incapable of enabling trust structures. Hence, the political objectives they can achieve are significantly less. Of note, since conflict is a net-destructive enterprise, their ability to achieve destructive objectives is likely to far exceed our capacity to impose constructive ones.

    How do you make trust structures? Harsh tyrants can do it by creating reliable conditioning through punishment. For instance, the Romans often took the sons of barbarian clients hostage in order to have a very personal form of retributional leverage in the event of bad conduct or betrayed allegiance. We don't have the stomach for such measures, even if they achieve a greater good. Doing things with such measures seems so much less..."exceptional."

    But, I digress...even if you can achieve such a conversion by force in a society, it is not always what is called for to maximize power or control. I find myself concluding that a punitive expedition may have been the most effective response to 9/11.

  11. I suppose I should add that I am not advocating we become tyrants, but I am saying that there are certain things that can be achieved through certain tyrannical measures. The "all carrot, no stick" technique has yet to prove itself.

  12. JR -

    The stick in GE was the red army, the stick in JA was fat man and little boy. The carrot after their total surrender was welcomed and embraced.

    We never had a comparable stick against the talibs. So WTF are we doing there 11 years later? IMO the punitive expedition was needed after 9/11. But it should have been truly expeditionary - go in and get out fast.

  13. To return to Andrew Bacevich's accurate observation, a fair part of the American population truly believes that "war works". Coupled with his observation that, for 90+% of the population, "war is a spectator sport", where is the need for strategic thinking? Waging war on the cheap, and using the public credit card, you simply do war until it "works", without any serious inconvenience whatsoever.

    Add a bit of Jerry Boykin's "I knew we would win because my God is bigger than his god", and mindlessness triumphs.

    Why try to delve any further?

  14. Aviator,

    I suppose my concern (besides the general frustration with idiots who make decisions that effect me) is that this sort of intellectual laziness I think will be bad for American democracy in a general way and also in a specific sense.

    After Vietnam, the American military sought to build a force that could not only win wars but prevent public opinion in American from preventing the "war from working." These current wars are examples of this as they have avoided anything like public control or assessment.

    The problem is that we still haven't won them. Look at Iraq; its a quietly assessed strategic loss despite the cost and effort there. And, this is the important part, its a loss despite a public perception that we 'won the war.' This is a dangerous phenomenon, especially as we see Iraq supporting Iran in this upcoming Shia-Sunni brawl.

    Just consider that the State Department has already become pretty much an appendage of the DoD during these wars and just a cover for the CIA elsewhere and it seems to me that the security complex is trying to go beyond merely running the wars but the lead up to and aftermath of the war. "War is too important to be left to the people" will be followed by "Peace is too important to be left to anyone but the Generals." As the American people lose their trust in every other institution other than the military, this becomes increasingly likely.

    It's already the de facto policy of both Presidential candidates to "get the opinion of the commanders on the ground" before making a decision about these wars. That's ok as long as the opinion doesn't act as a veto on a President's decision making, but that's what appears to have happened to Obama vs McChrystal (via Bob Woodward's book).

    Americans don't like generals making obvious fools of their political leaders, but they also despise their political leaders. Give it time. As the scope of our defeat becomes clear in these wars, there will be an increasing amount of activity on the security complexes part to control all aspects of the war/peace so that 'war works.'

    The real problem isn't that these wars are unwinnable or that we 'lost' a peace, but its that our military failed to win these wars. But due to the political pressures in place, the total sacrifice on the behalf of the service members, and the value of a 'war-time' to political leaders, we have ignored this and instead are operating in a fantasy world.

    Last point, I don't think its a fluke that descriptions of our military solutions involve terms that usually were relegated to the Third World dictators and terrorists that we are fighting. "Elite troops" and "asymmetric threats" used to be what we'd label a Revolutionary Guard Corps unit. Now its what we talk about when the US discusses its 'options' in Iran. The longer we engage in these fights the more likely it is that our race to finish these wars will cross moral boundaries and eventually lead to important breaks with previous political rules.

    Is there a way to start drinking the Koolaid again, or should I just ignore it altogether?


  15. I really like the opinions in this discussion.
    Can it be that the structure of the Afghan society was ignored because they were not given their monarch? Monarchies usually work as a glue for such heterogenous states and installing him would have meant a step back to normal instead of something totally new.
    The Taleeban were depicted from the start as pretty senseless madmen, negating negotiation capability. The problem seems that for the Afghani the Taleebans are extremists, but they do have accepted morality that is thoroughly lacking among their competition that rather ponders upon ethnicity as the Taleeban are composed primarily of Pashtu, the major ethnic group in Afghanistan.

    What other course can be taken? What if the US secured from the start a few places with supply lines and hunted al Qaida with air support and special forces, plus giving the Northern Alliance some support for their reconquest?
    Didn't that happen except for the self-betrayal at building national institutions like infrastucture, schools, army and police?
    In a way, the war in Afghanistan is still ongoing and undecided as the Taleeban survived more than a decade of US onslaught and the US is seemingly unable to use pressure points on the Saudi elites and the ISI?

    To play devil's advocate, Iraq and Afghanistan are not lost, they are failing and the final piece in the grandiose conquest scheme is Iran. You need to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan before engaging Iran, but can't wait too long because then the US remnant influence would have faltered. After a conquest of Iran no power can establish in Iraq or Afghanistan that is US hostile, because the US can run a damn effective insurgency with an endless supply of cheap mercenaries (that are politically opposed to the US, limiting moral fall out from their gruesome actions). Libya and Syria highlight this more efficient approach at regime change or dureable destabilization (that is suitable to bring the other side to a favourable negotiation solution). Iraq and Afghanistan both served as training grounds for these cheap djihadist mercenaries and for more expensive "special force" mercenaries of the Blackwater ilk.
    How the US wants to achieve the conquest of Iran for the completion of the new oil(and rare earth) order is opaque to me. The declaration of intent is there and I bet on the US not being keen on longterm occupying a money sink 4 times larger than Afghanistan.
    The Sunni djihadist mercenaries would have a hard time in a Shia country and the Blackwater-type didn't appear as a significant force expect in payments and newsbites. This leaves only Sudan as the next victim on the list where both types can be operated. Iran must be a surprise in this ongoing research project on types of power projection.

    Considering the "occupation" of Germany, there was resistance, but not of the Werwolf kind envisioned by the Nazis, it was rather modest in appearance via the "carpet scene".


  16. PF-

    The US is operating in "a fantasy world" at just about every level, the confusion in the military/national security sphere simply reflects that. Consider that the GOP is running on a platform of essentially wrecking what's left of the government to allow "the market" to work Ayn Rand style, but of course with massive military spending and a belligerent foreign policy, all the while blathering endlessly about their "Christian values" . . . What we are witnessing is the collapse of a social system.

  17. I would add to seydlitz:

    PF - According to US law and custom, the military should be consulted as to what they need to fulfill the elected civilian government's stated objectives. We saw what happened when a civilian (Rumsnamara) decided that he knew more than his generals.

    PF wrote: After Vietnam, the American military sought to build a force that could not only win wars but prevent public opinion in American from preventing the "war from working." We must have done this while I wasn't looking, and I spent my last several years at the theater level. You are confusing NeoCon propaganda with the objectives of the military.

    The fact that the US has refused to establish a professional General Staff prevents the situation you offer. However, keeping the preponderance of military activity at the operational and tactical level also limits the lack of technocratic strategic assistance the military can offer. Thus, there is a "Can Do" spirit towards the lawful orders issues by the civilian leadership, whether those orders are enlightened or not.

    HOWEVER, note that when Rumsnamara disregarded, or make that refused, sound doctrine, especially concerning Phase IV operations, in Iraq, Army general officer retirements went off the scale. They found his orders, however lawful, to be so totally wrongheaded they could no longer continue to serve. There was ultimately the so called "Generals' Revolt" where some 16 or so respected, retired generals called for his ouster.

  18. sheerahkahnOctober 22, 2012 12:15 AM


    I can't believe what I just read.

    His plan...his...JesusHChrist...did he even read what he wrote?

    Did he even give it a moments thought that what he just wrote was...the VERY SAME THING THE US DID IN VIETNAM THAT HE LATER SAYS BROKE THE ARMY!"

    And he'll make general for it.

    In the end, the best explanation is that if an honest argument would lead to the wrong conclusion, then only dishonest arguments are called for.

  19. seydlitz,

    My concern is less complete collapse and more that America comes to resemble Pakistan more and more, but it is incredible the degree to which the Republican candidate is so completely out to lunch when it comes to the real world.


    I'll concede that I'm assuming that wars inoculation to public opinion was planned. I'd refer you to Gen Petraeus' dissertation topic and other government/military strategists who've written on Vietnam as 'lost' because of a failure at home rather than a failure abroad. It is quite possible, though, that this was more of a 'happy accident' or something like that. In any event, do you deny the result is any different?

    My concern is that the results of Iraq and what is shaping up in the Middle East will encourage the creation of a General Staff and the further absorption of duties by the American military. There's a lot of assumptions here that will be playing out in the next decade, without a doubt. But the danger is that the structures, rules, and procedures in place that have prevented this in the past are weakening. And our need to win has led us towards a thought process that says, "whatever it takes!"

    We MUST stop these fights because their malignancy will affect us at home and in ways that are predictable and preventable. But it takes stopping killing people at will overseas for political gain at home.

    1. PFK,

      There's a "warrior ethos" display thingy on the Apex of corridors 3 & 4 of the 'gon (3rd floor), and it has a quote something like "Warrior ethos: I will always put the mission first, I will not accept defeat, I will never leave a comrade behind." The 3rd clause is great, but the first two clauses sound more like Robocop's directives than a warrior ethos. Unbounded oversimplifications like this are great chants to psych up 18 year old recruits, but they are dangerous when they creep into the ken of operational commanders (ref Von Falkenhein @ Verdun), commanders in chief, or the public.

    2. Jeremy,

      That's the Army's Creed! Or at least part of it. Every officer and enlisted soldier is supposed to learn that coming in. Of course, by the time soldiers get overseas they are supposed to be under the charge of NCOs who have been reciting the NCO Creed day and night which is somewhat less Robocop-ish.

      My personal favorite of those sorts of displays are the LDRSHIP values prominently displayed by the roads entering most Army Bases. Nothing like driving past a big sign that says "SELFLESS SERVICE" to get you all ready to jump on a grenade or plan an inventory inspection.

      I'm surprised that its in the Pentagon, though. Seems sort of like believing your own hype to a certain extent.


    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. My comments aren't as deep as everyone else's.

    1. I like Nagl, had a drink with him once. Think he is a smart guy. But this article must have been written by an evil clone or is a Chinese counterfeit. All comments above are valid, it is a shallow as an argument can get and is filled with generalized statements that are just wrong. Kind of reminds me of junior soccer,"we are all winners!"

    2. IRT the public not feeling the Pain, and Jeremy's comment about the cost of $1K per person to finance the war. I have been an advocate for a long time that we need a war tax. And it needs to be an amendment to the constitution.

    Silly idea, I know, to try to amend our constitution. An impossible idea in our broken partisan system (that is run by money coming from Super PACs, which strangely, is considered free speech by the SCOTUS).

    Our constitution is dead, we stopped using it decades ago. It died when we stopped amending it to keep it current. For interesting reading, look at the amendments over the past 100 years. Hell, we've had one in my lifetime, to ensure congress is paid correctly.

    We had some good civil rights amendments passed before that, and you have to go almost 90 years back to see any amendments that really changed how the government works (income tax, direct election of Senators).

    Sorry for the tangent. It just frustrates me to no end to see something I have sworn to uphold and defend being systematically neglected and ignored.

  21. PF

    The outcome of the Viet Nam War was indeed determined "at home", as our Constitution requires. What many military writers have accurately stated was that simple fact. A new geo-political goal (withdrawal from the conflict) for the US was adopted, based upon public opinion. In fact, following the War, during the adoption of the All Volunteer Military, General Abrams took great pains to structure the Active/Reserve force structure mix to try to make it damn near impossible to embark on a sustained war without the use of the Reserve Components - specifically to reduce an administration's ability for embarking on military missions without popular support. That was openly stated at the time. The change of use of the Reserve Components from a strategic to an operational reserve was a clever move by Rumsnamara with the assistance of public opinion rooted in the fear generated by 9/11. The People's silence is indeed their consent.

    As to Congress authorizing a professional General Staff, I seriously doubt it. Far too much loss of "power" in doing so.


    Amen, amen, amen. Funny how those who worship the Constitution and the "wisdom of the Founding Fathers" completely miss the fact that said "wisdom" resulted in Article 5.

  22. Aviator,

    Good point about the Active component / Reserve component (AC/RC) mix. Gen Abrams did it with a purpose as you point out. It is funny to me to see all that was done by SecDef Rumsfeld in 2003 to undo that (snowflakes about either making the RC more deployable or reabsorbing critical missions into the AC). Of course, I suspect that the SecDef didn't really consider the historical implications since he was wrapped up in the crisis of the moment and a blunted run at "transformation."

  23. bg: " Think he is a smart guy. "

    Larry H. Summers is (by some unwritten law) The Smartest Man in the World. That's never stopped him from wreaking havoc in every place he's gone.

  24. bg-

    I think Nagl meant well, but he made a couple of fundamental errors in applying David Galula to the Iraq and Afghan campaigns. Galula wrote about established states battling communist insurgencies, but who exactly was/is the "insurgency" in Iraq/Afghanistan? Who was/is the "established state"? You can't really apply Galula as an outside player which of course the US was/is since it comes once again to the notion of political legitimacy, which we have spoken about before. All this should have been basic.

    At this point Nagl seems to think his moment as pop strategist is coming to an end and this article reflects his panic . . . I think he's right.

  25. ..."snowflakes about either making the RC more deployable..."

    As an RC troop in the Oughts I watched this happen. The great unspoken and unwritten-about transformation in the RC has already occurred. The current force posture, with RC units deploying every 3-5 years for 12-18 months means that the "traditional" Guardsman/Reservist is almost extinct. No American not working for a public agency, or independently wealthy or, effectively a full-time soldier, can afford to try and keep a civilian career going with a year-long break in service twice a decade.

    Regardless of what the public law says, no private employer can and will afford to keep an employee on under those terms. So people like me, who had to choose between repeated deployments and retirement or ETS got out.

    What's even more reprehensible is that many states are full of people who have NEVER deployed; the need to keep up the body count to reap federal $$ means that these sick-lame-and-lazy bodies are kept on strength but that the actual work is done by a relatively small group of grunts.

    All of this points, to me, to a tightening gyre of nonsensical feedback, a sort of flat-spin OODA loop wherein self-licking solutions to self-defined problems mean that we continue down this bizarre road towards doing more and more with less and less until we are faced with trying to do Everything with Nothing...

    1. From Yeats's "The Second Coming"

      Turning and turning in the widening gyre
      The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
      Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
      Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
      The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
      The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity.

      The arts tend to accurately describe a problem decades before more technical thinkers can precisely do so. Yeats hit the nail on the head...and he even packaged it in an evangelical wrapping.

  26. Well, I'm willing to concede that I don't know much about the security complex before I was born. I am curious though if the impression is that what we are doing now is an anomaly or the new normal? Are Rumsfeld's 'reforms' being rolled back so that we can't wage war in perpetuity?

    If anything, it seems like his legacy has led to more 'black ops' no oversight military engagements.

    As for Nagl, I think there was a reason he never made Full Bird, but I didn't think it was for lack of brain matter. Maybe I wrong about that.

    Last thing, do you think Congress could resist a full court press by the military class at this point? Put an issue to the public and the 14% approval vs 70+% approval speaks for itself. Congress gets to 'call the shots' because it lets the military bath in money; if the purse strings get tighter, I think the generals will start grumbling. We'll see where that leads. I don't think any of this is assured, but given the current trends, I think there's plenty of possibilities.


  27. JR -

    War taxes were used in the past.

    A War Tax?

    Maybe we will get sane again someday.

    Kurt -

    Interesting comment. Can you go into more detail om the "carpet scene" resistance you mentioned - is that in ref to Agamemnon?

  28. Seydlitz,

    "thus ensuring continuing war profit$$$ to US war investor$$$ but at the cost of any strategic coherence. "

    I tend to think the reason has more to do with with our American self-image as a people who aren't "losers." There's a pretty strong desire to avoid at least the appearance of another "Vietnam," a failure we haven't quite lived down yet. Our politicians understand this well, which is why both parties have sought some sort of "success" in these wars, or at least the appearance of success.

    On a tangent, I ran across a series of posts the other day and thought of you. "Community" and "society" in the US is a topic you've discussed in the past and I think you might find this series of post by Charles Hugh Smith interesting. What he calls "narcissitic consumerism" sounds a lot like the way you've describe American society as an "atomized pulp." I thought the comparison with Japan was particularly interesting and was something I was unaware of.

  29. On the topic of putting a "war on the credit card" I never really understood this argument. War is a hugely expensive enterprise and historically it is very rare for any nation to fund it "pay as you go" without borrowing. The US is no exception. We've borrowed for all our major wars. That we borrowed for Afghanistan and Iraq shouldn't be surprising to anyone.

    I think those who criticize funding a war through debt, or funding it outside of the normal budget process through specific appropriations should carefully consider the alternative. Do we really want to "normalize" war to such an extent that it becomes simply another line-item in the budget? Do we really want a condition where our government can pay for a war essentially indefinitely? An annual (or even more frequent) specific Congressional authorization to fund a war gives Congress both the responsibility and the means to to use their "power of the purse" to end a war should they choose to do so.

    That said, I like BG's idea of a Constitutional "war tax." It wouldn't raise enough money to make a major war a debt-free enterprise, but it would spread the burden. Like a lot of good ideas, it sadly has no hope of becoming reality, at least as long as the baby boomers are around.

  30. Andy

    Most complaints about putting Iraq and Afghanistan "on the credit card" are rooted in the objection to taxes being reduced at the time the wars were initiated. In short, no effort whatsoever to offset one penny of the increased government expenditures resulting from those wars with increased revenue.

    I do not, for one minute, think a significant military operation can be immediately funded without some debt arising. However, choosing to do it on a 100% "credit basis", and continuing to do so for 10 years, does push the limits.

  31. Andy, there is another reason I like the war tax. It is a deterrent for politicians. People will only rise up against a war if it impacts them. The wars in Iraq and Afg cost the average American noting (directly, let's not assume that the average American can relate the war to the debt and the impact that will have on them someday).

    A war tax, like they have in Australia, becomes a limiting factor for the executive branch. In Australia, they have to keep troop deployments below a threshold, or an automatic tax goes into place, and it is a big one. Politicians are incentivized to keep military deployments very short, or think twice about going at all.

    King for a day: I would set the number at 20K uniformed and government contracted personnel (about 1 Brigade with support) in a single military theater extended over 365 days. On day 366, the tax goes into effect. This still gives the President the latitude to wage a quick punitive campaign or humanitarian relief somewhere, he has one year. Day 366, you better break contact or here comes the bill. If taxpayers think the military deployment is important enough to pay for it, they will keep the politician around.

  32. bg

    You would receive my vote for "kingship".

  33. Andy-

    Looks interesting. Thanks.

    How does CHS define "Neo-feudalism" . . . that would be my first question.


    You would get my vote as well.

  34. PF-

    Let me expand a bit on what I mean by "collapse of a social system". Social systems are essentially civilizations, we're talking about that level. Which means that this "collapse" can take a long time, and then bits and pieces remain. What signifies using this term is that there is no reversal, no going back up, no recovery, you keep falling until you hit bottom. What exactly "bottom" is I don't think anyone can say at this point.

    They say that the local Roman postal system lasted into the 6th Century AD in southern France . . .